Hope for victims after hate crime crackdown

As the CST launches a joint initiative with a leading British Muslim support group to offer advice for victims and witnesses of hate crime the CPS also strengthens its position on hate crime


A double-pronged attack on hate crime was launched this week with a Jewish-Muslim initiative to aid victims coinciding with an announcement by the Crown Prosecution Service of a crackdown on online offenders.

The Community Security Trust and the Tell Mama organisation, which monitors Islamophobia, issued a guidebook aimed at helping those who have been racially abused or witnessed such attacks.

The publication, Hate Crime: A guide for those affected, includes details of victims’ rights and advice on how to navigate the criminal justice system.

CST said it was an “important tool” in tackling a rising tide of antisemitism and Islamophobia in the UK. The launch on Wednesday came 48 hours after Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, said internet abuse should be treated as seriously as offences committed face-to-face.

The CPS will seek stiffer penalties for attacks carried out on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.

Critics said the CPS plan threatened to “overwhelm” police resources and could add further pressure to the overcrowded jail system.

But Ms Saunders’s announcement was greeted with approval from communal organisations.

Gillian Merron, Board of Deputies chief executive, said it was a “positive step”, adding: “Whether it is face-to-face or online, hate speech is illegal and must be treated as such.”

She called on social media companies to “up their game”.

Simon Johnson, Jewish Leadership Council chief executive, said racist messaging had been allowed to sit in the public domain for weeks or months after being identified, an issue which he said authorities must work to stop.

Danny Stone, director of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, said it would be vital that “prosecutors and judges have a full and detailed understanding of how online hate operates” in order for the proposals to work.

Ms Saunders had called for more prosecutions and longer sentences for those convicted of hate crimes but admitted there were “huge questions” over how to combat online extremism, with “no straightforward answers”.

Barrister Adam Wagner said that, while it was important for police to try to get a grip on internet hate speech, the task was “fraught with difficulty”.

He explained: “Social media hate crime will be defined as that which ‘is perceived by the victim… to be motivated by hostility or prejudice’. On social media, motivation and meaning are often hard to pin down and context is key.

“There are millions of online messages sent each day and many could be characterised as hate speech. The police could be overwhelmed.

“There is also the importance of free speech — police are not always the best judges of the line between offensive free speech and hate speech.”

Responding to criticism of the new guidelines, Mark Gardner, CST director of communications, said: “Any tightening of law carries additional burdens for the policing and judicial process, but this is CPS guidance so it will presumably impact prosecutors more than anyone else.

“You can feel society fracturing of late, so this issue is increasingly important and if more resources need to be put in place, then so be it.”

Media lawyer Mark Lewis — himself a victim of antisemitic online trolls — dismissed concerns around additional pressure on police and prison overcrowding.

“No one would say, don’t lock up a murderer because we need the space, it is the crime that counts,” the UK Lawyers for Israel director said.

“To onlookers who have not experienced this hatred, it is easy to be blasé and say ‘just block them’, but the reality is that such hatred is not just a frightening attack on an individual but a dog whistle to other racists, both here and abroad, to join in the attack.”

Luciana Berger, the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, who was targeted in a far-right online antisemitic campaign that led to a conviction at the Old Bailey, said: “I know from my own experience the impact online hate can have not only on me, but also on my family and those around me.

“I happen to be fortunate that as an MP with a strong support network I have a voice, but there are plenty of people who don’t have these things. We need to treat victims of crime, whether it is online or offline, in exactly the same way.”

CST’s joint initiative with the Tell Mama organisation, a Muslim group which monitors Islamophobia, is aimed at helping those who have been racially abused or witnessed such attacks.

The publication on Wednesday of the guidebook, Hate Crime: A guide for those affected, was praised by Ms Saunders .

She said the CPS wanted “communities and individuals to have the confidence to come forward and report these offences, no matter how minor they may appear.

“This guide is an important way of ensuring that victims can make informed decisions about the most appropriate course of action, taking account of their particular personal circumstances.”

CST’s annual figures show an increase of antisemitic abuse online. In 2011, just 12 of the 609 recorded incidents came on social media – but the figure jumped to 287 incidents, almost a quarter of all reported incidents, during the first six months of 2017.

Hate crimes against Muslims have also risen in Britain during the same period.

While official figures show a 20 per cent rise in all hate crimes reported to police in the first quarter of this year, offences of this kind are still believed to be significantly under-reported.

David Delew, CST chief executive, said: “Despite our best efforts to combat all forms of hate crime and hate incidents, levels of antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred in the UK are unfortunately on the rise.

“This collaborative guide will be an important tool for all those affected by hate crime in understanding their rights, and how to navigate the complicated criminal justice system.”

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